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Providing a home for Christmas

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WORLD Radio - Providing a home for Christmas

Soldiers and their families at Fort Drum in upstate New York gather for Christmas fellowship


The home of Matt and Meredith Snell in Fort Drum, New York Photo by Grace Snell

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Today on the 50th episode of Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast, Kelsey Reed and Jonathan Boes explore their Top Ten Words of the Year. These difficult terms have cropped up all over the news of 2023. But are we using them correctly? Here’s a preview:

REED: We are going to be next looking at the word fascism. So we're jumping straight into the deep water here. Unfortunately, this term has been all over social media, all over news commentary, and even in some more scholarly sources, how it's being used. It's often hyperbolic in nature. It's again, a chance for doing some mudslinging and trying to really cut the knees out from under a political opponent. It's not thoughtfully applied. It's kind of a part of, you know, this, this culture of cynicism, and a weird kind of youth humor, where sometimes you're hearing, oh, you're just fascist.

BOES: When it comes to how we should use it. I think the idea of using it sparingly is really important because it wouldn't be our 50th episode, if I didn't quote CS Lewis, of course, but he said, Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say. I think that if we miss you as fascism as a term and just turn it into anything that is scary and authoritative. The real risk is that we won't see actual markers of fascism when they arise.

You can hear the entire episode of Concurrently today wherever you get your podcasts. And find out more at concurrentlypodcast.com.

REICHARD: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: home for the holidays.

The U.S. has more than 170,000 soldiers deployed around the world. For them and their families back home, the Christmas season can be an especially tough time of year.

WORLD Feature Reporter Grace Snell went home for the holidays and brings us this story about what it’s like celebrating Christmas alongside soldiers and their families.

SOUND: [Cars rushing by]

GRACE SNELL, REPORTER: There’s a little gray house on the banks of the Black River. It sits just off the road—a ten-minute drive from the U.S. Army base at Fort Drum, New York.

SOUND: [Canadian geese honking]

Fort Drum isn’t exactly what soldiers here would call a “garden spot.” It’s dark, cold, and remote. About an hour south of Canada.

SOUND: [Door opening]

Right now, it’s 4:30 p.m. —and already the sunlight has vanished.

AUDIO: [People talking and arriving]

But inside the house it’s warm and bright—the windows making glowing squares against the night. Christmas wreaths adorn the walls and grace the banisters.

This is my home. But on nights like this, for the nearly sixty people gathered, it’s their home, too. That’s the reason my parents, Matt and Meredith Snell, moved up here in the first place.

MATT: Because our mission is to share the gospel and our lives with the military community…

They run a home-based ministry to service members and their families.

MATT: We just invite people naturally into the things we’re already doing, whether that’s lighting an Advent wreath, and reading a short devotional, or you know, whether it’s the way we do Christmas presents or anything like that…

It’s a ministry that takes on a special significance around Christmas time.

MEREDITH: That’s not a holiday meant to be spent alone…And if people are away from family, we want to be the friends who are like family, just invite people in and give them a place to be.

That’s why everyone’s here this evening. For a Christmas party. We’ll have our more solemn carol-sing next week. But tonight is just for fun.

AUDIO: [People grabbing snacks, talking]

The kitchen island is buried under a spread of cookies, cheese and crackers, and chex-mix.

SOUND: [Utensils]

People heap their plates high while catching up with friends.

SOUND: [M&Ms clattering]

Then, it’s time for the games to begin. Things like sorting M&Ms with straws…

AUDIO: [Starting count, wrapping paper rustling, yelling]

Wrapping gifts blindfolded…

SOUND: [Dice, talking, applause]

And some kind of relay race with oven mitts, cellophane, and a pair of dice…

SOUND: [Games, laughter]

All of the games end in laughter…which is good, because most people here can use a laugh right about now. “Block leave” —Army vacation time—starts next week. But, for many, it’s been a grueling push to get to this point. Long weeks of work and training. There’s a feeling of relief and excitement to have made it this far.

SOUND: [White elephant stealing, laughter]

But, not everyone can be here tonight. Seventeen photos hang in the dining room upstairs—reminders of our deployed soldiers who won’t be home for the holidays.

Kristina De La Cruz is a mom of three. Her husband, Alvin, is deployed to Korea right now.

DE LA CRUZ: So Christmas this year, Alvin will be gone. And I think we’re just gonna have to learn how to make the best of it…

Their family hails from the Pacific island of Guam—almost eight-thousand miles away.

DE LA CRUZ: For one ticket, it’s like $1,600 to $2,000 to fly, and so there’s four of us. And so going home is just not an option.

So, they’re celebrating with us this year.

DE LA CRUZ: It kind of adds some excitement, like, “Hey, we are doing something different this year because Dad’s gone, but we’re going to do everything different. God has provided for each one of us because I can’t imagine going through this alone even just like the daily things. But Christmas especially…

Erin Hutchinson and her five kids landed here six months ago. They’ve spent the last decade hopping the globe…from Fort Knox, Kentucky to Okinawa, Japan.

HUTCHINSON: The main Christmas tradition we have as a family is that Chet and I cook breakfast for our kids. We basically make, like, a little restaurant, and they get to order off of a menu.

Her husband always dons his wedding tuxedo—to look like a waiter. But this year, Chet will have to FaceTime in from the Middle East.

HUTCHINSON: So that part is a little bit sad. But we are. I mean, we’re really thankful for the community here that provides a lot of activities and opportunities to do things you would do with family, even when you’re not near them.

The grief of missing family makes it seem all the more important to celebrate. My dad pulls out his beloved copy of Every Moment Holy, puts on his glasses, and reads a passage from the liturgy, “For Feasting with Friends.”

MATT: “To gather joyfully is indeed a serious affair, for feasting, and all enjoyments gratefully taken are at their heart acts of war.” And I think that’s part of what we think about is, in this time of Christ’s coming, that the darkness is being pushed back. And we’re inviting the light in and pointing people to Jesus as the light.

After a short devotional and a spirited white elephant exchange, the scheduled portion of the evening is over. But most people stick around for a while…

MATT: At the holidays, people tend to linger. And so there’s just those times for those longer conversations where you really get to hear people’s heart and get to know what’s on their minds.

The last guests don’t leave until well past midnight. But that’s alright with us. It’s why we’re here.

MEREDITH: Holidays are different because I think people are more open. They’re historically times again, that you spend with family and friends. And so there’s just a longing to be together. They’re looking for a place to be and we’re really thankful that we get to, to be that place.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Grace Snell in Watertown, New York.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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